Welcome to HMC Architects’ Five in Focus blog series, where we explore the latest trends, ideas, and innovations shaping the future of architecture and design. This series asks our design professionals to tell us what’s capturing their attention and offer some insights.

James Krueger, AIA, NCARB, is HMC’s Director of Design. He shares his thoughts on model making, artificial intelligence, biophilia, design retrospectives, and diagrams here.

1. Model-making revival.

We’ve been diligently shaping our design principles over the past few years and refining our overall design approach. In this ongoing journey, one aspect that stands out as needing improvement is our approach to model-making. This early-stage component plays a pivotal role, allowing us to step away from the confines of a two-dimensional screen and gain a deeper understanding of spatial concepts. Additionally, these tangible models offer us a more compelling means to convey our ideas to clients. Recently, we’ve grown accustomed to the allure of instant gratification through renderings. While undoubtedly potent tools for communication, they occasionally pose a challenge by prematurely portraying a project as more advanced than it truly is in the design process. To address this, we’re reintegrating the art of physical model-making into our design workflow. We’re establishing dedicated model-making stations throughout the firm, rekindling this practice within our creative process. Furthermore, we recognize the importance of modern technology, and we’re actively updating our 3D printers while providing enhanced training to ensure their increased utilization in each studio. These measures promise to foster a richer design dialogue across our entire organization, and I am genuinely excited about the potential they bring to our creative endeavors.

2. Exploring creative boundaries with artificial intelligence.

As we stand on the precipice of a new era, one thing is abundantly clear: artificial intelligence has arrived, and we’re actively pushing its creative boundaries. Now, we can generate captivating architectural imagery with just a few prompts. This advancement prompts us to contemplate its implications for our industry. As suggested in this Archinect article, does it potentially threaten our business? While undeniably fascinating, the images produced by AI lack a crucial element. They need to be grounded in the pursuit of specific design goals. They lack the rigorous design process that architects bring and often appear as fantastical creations, as exemplified in this arch20 article.Nevertheless, amid this AI surge, I see an opportunity to harness this technology for more mundane tasks, freeing our time to focus on crafting genuinely impactful work. With time, these AI tools promise to expedite our iterative processes, enabling us to generate data-driven responses to design challenges more efficiently and precisely. Ultimately, this evolution will empower us to deliver more impactful designs for our clients and the communities we are committed to serving.

3. Fresh perspectives from design retrospectives.

At the last Monterey Design Conference, I had the privilege of attending a captivating lecture by James Wines. His insights resonated deeply with me, particularly his emphasis on “clearing the desk.” Wines encouraged architects to set aside their familiar bag of design tricks, those well-worn elements we rely on when embarking on new projects. He urged us to approach each design problem with a fresh perspective, fostering openness to new and innovative outcomes. Taking this advice to heart, I embarked on a journey to reevaluate and revitalize our approach to design. Through extensive discussions with our design leadership, I formulated what I now call the “Design Retrospective” framework. This framework is a comprehensive tool to examine our collective work throughout our careers. The first step involves quantitative analysis, where we delve into the numbers: years of practice, the total number of projects undertaken, the variety of project types tackled, the cumulative construction value, full project size, and the accolades received. This quantitative assessment lays the foundation for a more profound examination. Next, we lay out our projects chronologically, showcasing the hero images that encapsulate the essence of each undertaking. This visual representation is a significant milestone, offering us a rare opportunity to see our work on a single page. Through this process, we gain insights into our growth trajectories, identify emerging design trends, and detect recurring elements that deserve further exploration. The subsequent phase involves a closer look at the projects that have received recognition and awards. We dissect these projects to uncover the underlying reasons for their success, contrasting them with those that still need to receive acclaim. Personally, this introspective journey revealed a few pivotal projects that played a transformative role in my evolution as an architect. Many of these projects fell into new practice areas, presented complex design challenges, and yielded inherently unpredictable outcomes. Recognizing these themes in my work has sparked ongoing exploration and innovation. I noticed certain design elements that have grown stale and need to be set aside. I identified areas where I need to concentrate my efforts, filling gaps that can only be discovered through introspection. I have invited all our design principles to complete their retrospectives by the year’s end to share these insights with our firm. Ultimately, the culmination of these efforts will guide us in crafting a comprehensive firm monograph slated for release in 2024. This endeavor marks a transformative step forward as we collectively leverage the power of retrospection to redefine our creative journey and shape the future of our practice.

4. Biophilia is a connection we all share.

The profound connection between humanity and nature resides deep within us, and the abundant advantages of bridging our constructed environments with the natural world have been extensively documented. Recently, I had the privilege of completing a book penned by our dear late friend, Lance Hosey, titled “The Shape of Green.” In the book, Lance articulates a vision of “Creating an aesthetic of ecology, a set of principles and mechanics for making design more responsive and responsible, environmentally, socially, and economically.” Lance draws attention to the magnificent Acacia trees that dominate the African Savanna, where the human species originated and spent 98 percent of its existence. Through compelling imagery, he establishes a correlation between these trees and a “universal aesthetic” characterized by their fractal density, offering mental and physical benefits to most individuals who behold them. Integral to our evolutionary history, these trees provided safety, shade, and sustenance, effectively hardwiring us to seek and embrace nature. In this light, we find ourselves compelled to seek opportunities to connect the occupants of our buildings to the great outdoors, both visually and physically. Abundant research substantiates the undeniable benefits of such connections. By infusing biophilia into all our undertakings, we align with our overarching Design for Good purpose and unlock the potential for a deeper impact across all our disciplines.

5. My unsolicited advice: Embrace an active lifestyle.

If there’s one piece of advice I’d offer to those in this profession, it’s this: cultivate an active outdoor pursuit that challenges you. My affinity for the great outdoors has been a constant throughout my life. From my earliest memories, I’ve been drawn to the natural world. During my childhood, summers were filled with camping trips in the local mountains and memorable fishing and hiking expeditions with my father. As I entered my teenage years, skateboarding became a passion, and a few years later, I fell in love with surfing, a passion I still cherish today. Engaging in outdoor activities like a simple walk brings numerous benefits, such as increased energy levels, enhanced cognitive function, stress reduction, improved mood, and better sleep. Our profession tends to be relatively sedentary, a stark contrast to our ancestors’ active lifestyles, centered around hunting and gathering. To continue making a positive impact through our work, we must seek opportunities to keep moving and stay physically active.

James Krueger, AIA, NCARB

Director of Design

As Director of Design, James oversees design and leads strategies to improve the impact of HMC’s work. Formerly serving as design principal where he led projects for HMC’s PreK-12 and civic practices, Krueger’s creative approach emphasizes the firm’s purpose of “design for good” to support clients with high-performance solutions that aim to have a positive impact.

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